10 questions for Zoovy CFO Tom Saftig

Name: Tom Saftig

Age: 54

Time with company: Six years

Education: Associate of Arts, Orange Coast College; Bachelor of Arts, Stanford University; MBA, University of California, Los Angeles

Company headquarters: Carlsbad, California

Number of countries: Two -- U.S. and Canada

Number of employees: 30

About the company: Founded in 2000, Zoovy offers an integrated e-commerce platform and services, helping merchants to build and maintain online stores, and market their products. Zoovy's website is https://www.zoovy.com/index.html

1. Tell us where you started in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today.

After I got my MBA in accounting and finance from UCLA and spent a short time with Price Waterhouse, I had my own business in the import field. That business struggled and I was hired by a "consummate" entrepreneur to be his CFO. We started several companies, we bought several and did turnarounds, and we had some successful exits and some unsuccessful ones. I did that for about 10 years and then was hired by a young startup. We raised some venture capital money and got almost to profitability when the tech bubble burst and we lost our funding. About that time I began working with early stage companies. I started with Zoovy in 2004.

2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?

I worked for a fellow about 15 years ago, Rick Greenwood. He had been the CEO of a regional bank and then helped start a young company. He had been a CFO previously so I learned a lot from him. His management style was one where he demonstrated hard work, but was not just a hard worker, he was great at analyzing problems and then getting his subordinates to figure out the best solution and then let them implement those solutions.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?

I can't speak for large company CFOs, but I think they have a lot of regulatory issues to manage. With small companies things haven't changed much from a CFO perspective. It's all about execution. Cash flow management is always number one, we have to make sure that we have enough to execute our plan. Raising money is always hard, just now it's even harder than previously.

4. What is a good day at work like for you?

Well, it hopefully starts out surfing. If I can start the day in the water, then I'm relaxed and the problems of the day just don't seem as tough. At Zoovy we keep very close tabs on our metrics so it's always checking on our performance versus our plan. We're always trying to find ways to help our merchants to sell more products with fewer resources and more profitably. When our merchants succeed then Zoovy succeeds. So a good day would be one where we're ahead of our forecast and we've added new accounts and our existing accounts are selling more.

5. How would you characterize your management style?

I'm a hands-off person. I let the people do their work. Sometimes they need help, but most of the time they know how best to solve problems. Since I've been with a lot of young companies, I've seen the mistakes that get early-stage companies in trouble. It's my job to make sure those don't get repeated.

6. What strengths/qualities do you look for in job candidates?

Passion! I want to see someone that is interested in the company, in the industry and wants to improve themselves. Plus, I want to find someone that fits in with the team. It's very difficult for small companies to thrive. If you have one bad employee it can really hinder success. In a large company, one employee out of a thousand won't make much difference, but in a smaller company, one out of 10 or 20 can really hurt you.

7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company and what sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn't be a good fit?

I want to hear about a past success and what they did to make that come about. I also want to know what makes them mad and what they're interested in when they're not at work.

If nothing makes them mad, then I doubt if they have the "fight" in them to do what it takes to make a small company successful. If they've had too many jobs, without some very good reasons, then I'd question if they're going to stick around. For a small company, it is very expensive in the time required to train someone, so if you have a lot of employee turnover it can really hinder your ability to grow. I did some empirical research a few years ago about the correlation between employee turnover and the company's customer turnover and there were some very tight correlations.

8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?

Working at Zoovy is different because it includes most of the facets that interest me:

-- E-commerce is a very competitive space that is changing rapidly, so it's a challenge to keep up with technology.

-- Zoovy has been able to attract some very skilled and dedicated people that strive to make it a success. They're fun to work with.

-- Zoovy is run by a very bright and talented individual.

-- Every business has its challenges -- which, in this case, include how to attract and educate our target audience on a limited budget.

9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

As I said earlier, if I can start the day surfing, I don't need to unwind at the end. It just flows.

10. If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing?

I really enjoy working with small companies. I love the passion that entrepreneurs have to make their companies successful. Zoovy's CEO Brian Horakh is the most driven man I've met. It's a pleasure to work with someone with that much passion. It's also great to hear about the merchants that utilize Zoovy's technology to grow their businesses. It's fun to see the variety of products from paintball guns to sporting goods to apparel and electronics that are sold using Zoovy's platform.

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